“Make people realize from the get-go that this meeting matters. And their time is valuable. Research shows that what is discussed at the beginning of the meeting gets the most attention and focus.”

In this episode

In episode #76, Steven Rogelberg talks about the mood of the meeting. 

Steven Rogelberg is the author of The Surprising Science of Meetings and Chancellor’s Professor at UNC Charlotte. 

In today’s episode, Steven talks about why energy matters in meetings and how leaders can improve listening, positivity, and engagement with a display of high energy and gratitude. 

We also talk about framing meeting agendas as a set of questions to help improve being a good steward of others’ time. 

Tune in to hear what social loafing is and how a bad meeting leads to meeting recovery syndrome.

Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.


The meeting’s mood


An agenda is a story


Fake inclusion in meetings


Mixing approaches, asynchronously


Meeting recovery syndrome


You aren’t a good meeting host



Aydin Mirzaee (  00:14

Steven, welcome to the show!

Steven Rogelberg  03:11

My pleasure. I’m so glad to be able to do this with you, Aydin.

Aydin Mirzaee (  03:13

Yeah,  this is really fun. I showed this to you before but for the audience that has not read this book, The surprising science of meetings, when did you actually write the book? Or when was it published?

Steven Rogelberg  03:24

2019 with a crazy story, because the book was released thing January 1. And I mean, candidly, it wasn’t sure if anyone was gonna read it, right. It’s a book about meetings, and it has science unabashedly in the title. And then I was shocked that the next day the Washington Post named is the number one leadership book to watch for. And then it just went viral. And it’s just been a blast, because I love talking about meetings.

Aydin Mirzaee (  03:50

That’s awesome. And then of course, the pandemic happened, I have to ask, is there going to be like a revision or not a revision, but like an updated version, given all of what’s happened recently.

Steven Rogelberg  04:02

So I’ve been doing research throughout. I mean, right now, this is the greatest time to be a meetings researcher, ever. People are so interested in the topic. So I’ve been publishing a whole bunch of articles and Harvard Business Review, and MIT Sloan. So if people go to my website, Steven, there’s links to all these various articles, you know, so much of what’s in the book, though, its core, and it hasn’t aged out during COVID, their core approaches to how to run meetings. So it’s definitely relevant, probably more relevant. And then, you know, some of the nuances I’ve tried to express and some of the recent publications I’ve had,

Aydin Mirzaee (  04:40

this is one of those things, it’s going to be relevant forever. Even if one day we’re all meeting in virtual reality, all the same protocols, you know, still apply. You still want to have a plan, a plan to have an effective meeting. Why don’t we start talking about a few of the things that I think are will be really interesting. For listeners, when which is just energy level. I think a lot of people don’t think about orchestrating or planning for their meetings and just thinking about the energy of the audience. How do you think about that? And how can people, I guess, create more energetic settings,

Steven Rogelberg  05:19

Energy does matter. And the best predictor of the mood of a meeting is really the mood of the leader. It’s just so critical that that leader starts the meeting with positive energy appreciation and gratitude, and it produces a contagion effect of sorts and trying to get the meeting in a positive mood state. It it’s, it’s really important as that when the meeting does have that positive mood state, it promotes more listening, more constructive conversations, creativity, listening is listening. constructiveness. So I’m not at all suggesting that leaders are artificially positive, but even in difficult circumstances, we can display energy, right, we can display appreciation, and we can display gratitude. And that is a very meaningful investment by a meeting leader.

Aydin Mirzaee (  06:13

This is a very interesting, like, tactical point, what if you’re just having a horrible day? Should you cancel any meetings that you’re running?

Steven Rogelberg  06:20

No, you shouldn’t. But you can be authentic, right, you can go into the meeting and share with people some of the challenges that you’re having. I mean, that’s people crave authenticity. But just because you’re having a rough day doesn’t mean you need to treat people poorly. In fact, by acting with energy and gratitude and appreciation, it’s kind of it will affect how you feel right? It’s kind of like that the adage, fake it till you make it. And it’s true. So to the extent that yeah, if you’re having a bad day, that’s fine, bring it but then pivot, because you’re asking everyone else to pivot. Right, everyone’s coming into that meeting with their own set of problems and issues. And acknowledging that is a great way of starting and then saying okay, but now we’re together. And we’re trying to do some really important things together.

Aydin Mirzaee (  07:13

Yeah, I think I think that makes a lot of sense. And so. So a lot of it is on the organizer, the energy level, but you also said starting a meeting with things like thanks, and gratitude, like, what is your viewpoint on structuring an agenda in general? Like, where do you put various types of topics? And how does it work into energy flow

Steven Rogelberg  07:35

An agenda is, it’s a story, right? It’s the story you’re trying to tell with a meeting. If you think about constructing a movie script. You may be in the very beginning, there’s some background that shared general news and notes, but then there’s a hook. And the hook is fast, right? Watchers don’t have to wait a long time for that hook. And the analogy for a meeting is really after five minutes or so you should go in on your most important topic, right? Make people realize from the get-go that this meeting matters. And their time is valuable. And the research shows that what’s ever discussed at the beginning of the meeting gets the most attention and focus. And so I want to, I want that great attention focus to be directed towards the most important topics. And then if you run out of time, the things that don’t get attention are the things that are of lesser importance. So yeah, so that’s the structure is think about it as what’s most important, what are you truly trying to accomplish? And make that the imperative, the challenge at the get-go? And I know you’re familiar with something I advocate about this idea of framing your agenda as questions to be answered. Do you want me to talk a little bit about that? Yeah,

Aydin Mirzaee (  08:50

Yeah, let’s talk about that!

Steven Rogelberg  08:52

So as you know it in that most agendas are structured as a set of topics to be discussed. And what I want to challenge meeting leaders to consider is structuring your agenda as a set of questions to be answered. And this is a very fundamentally different thing to do. Now, you have to think strategically, why are we getting together? And by framing his questions, you have a better sense of who has to be at the meeting, right? The relevant to the questions by framing as questions, you know, when to end the meeting. And if the meetings have been successful, right? Framing his questions also creates engaging challenges for people because questions like a goal and people do well at trying to meet goals. And finally, if you just can’t think of any questions, that likely means you don’t need a meeting. So I think this question-based approach is another alternative to thinking about your agendas in a much more strategic light.

Aydin Mirzaee (  09:51

And so an example of this is, you know, you might think of it as an if we walk into this meeting, the goal would be to answer this set of questions and So that that is where the thought process comes from. And so you’re talking about so for example, instead of saying, you know, item number one revenue targets for the year, how ambitious can we get about our revenue targets this year?

Steven Rogelberg  10:14

Or it could be? You know, we need to save having cut expenses. The question is, how can we cut expenses by 20%? And q1 and q2?

Aydin Mirzaee (  10:24

Yeah. And it’s very interesting. Like, I can imagine myself reading that agenda item in advance and coming into the meeting a lot more prepared as well,

Steven Rogelberg  10:32

You are spot on. I mean, that’s the beauty of it, right? Because now when you send that agenda item with questions, I mean, you’re signalling, right, you’re signalling everything, you’re signalling exactly the purpose of the meeting and as soon as you tell people the types of questions that are going to be broached, you are so spot on. I mean, people can’t help themselves, to start thinking of potential ideas around them.

Aydin Mirzaee (  10:57

Yeah, one of the other questions is, you know, you can’t talk about meetings, unless you’re also talking about the attendees, you have some very specific thoughts around the types of attendees that that should attend every meeting. And one of the words, that I learned for the first time in reading your book was the Word, social loafing, I’d love for you to explain what social loafing is.

Steven Rogelberg  11:20

So this all ties into this idea of the size of meetings, meetings tend to be incredibly bloated. And large meetings are problematic, the research is really strong and supportive that the bigger the meeting, the less effective it is, and the less included people feel. So what happens in these big meetings? Well, you have the obvious thing is less airtime, right? Because meetings are structured typically that we speak one at a time, if you have a large meeting, there’s a lot of people who are just waiting, waiting for their turns. So you have an air time issue, you also have, and this is where we tie into the concept of social loafing is you have this diffusion of responsibility that happens. So when you’re in a crowd, by definition, you start to blend in. And when you blend into a crowd, and you have less identifiability, we just tend not to engage and participate as deeply. And that’s really what social loafing refers to it’s this idea of reducing our efforts when we’re in a larger group. And this is also what ties into multitasking. Right? You know, when do we multitask? Well, when we’re not feeling very needed when we’re not very identifiable. And so social loafing ties into that, too. So the best way to mitigate social loafing is smaller meetings, smaller meetings with people who are drawn into those questions. Because the questions are inspiring, you want to engage, right, you want to participate. And so it’s a really important concept because a lot of meeting size is well-intentioned, right? I don’t think the meeting leader, you know, I think the meeting leader’s disposition is when in doubt, include. And because technology makes it so easy for us to include, you know, we do it. But it’s fake inclusion. It’s not real inclusion it’s counter to inclusion. And so it’s much more meaningful for a meeting leader to truly think about who has to be there, and then elevate the meeting. So it’s highly important, and make it so those people, you know, truly feel valued and necessary.

Aydin Mirzaee (  13:38

Yeah, you know it is a very good point on the IT technology does make it easy. And even some basic things like if we’re all working in a physical office, and everybody’s kind of sitting around, it’s easy to call that person into a meeting. But I was just thinking, as you were explaining that, that maybe we should just imagine that it would take everybody, the people participating an hour to kind of get to the meeting. And is it so worth it for them to come so that they can have that, you know, one minute of participation in a larger setting? Well,

Steven Rogelberg  14:11

I love that question. And what I want leaders to do when they’re, I just want them to think, right. I mean, one of the things that really, I think pops in my book, as you saw is this notion of being a good steward of others’ time. And that’s timeless. It doesn’t matter what technology we’re using to facilitate a meeting. That meeting leader has to be a good steward. When you’re a good steward. You want to honour people’s time, by designing a meaningful meeting experience. You don’t want to waste time by the thought of someone leaving your meeting saying that was a waste of my time is so upsetting to you. And so when you’re a good steward, you start making choices you act intentionally. So When you think about who needs to be at the meeting, you think about it. You say, Okay, yeah, I I need an eight in there. No, I probably don’t need Sasha there, but I’m going to just keep her in the loop. And so you think about it. And, you know, so, therefore, you’re going to be elevating Aiden’s contributions, but then to Sasha, you’re sending a really good message. Right? You’re saying socials, I don’t want to waste your time. And it’s a recognition that the best resource that everyone has these days is time. And if you’re going to ask for someone’s time, you have a responsibility. It starts by not over-inviting.

Aydin Mirzaee (  15:37

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Steven Rogelberg  16:50

You do. So there are a couple of ways of doing it. First and foremost, we can time their entry and exit. Right, they don’t have to be held captive, which is really what we do when we invite them for the entire meeting. There’s absolutely no reason why someone can pop on for 10 minutes, and share that perspective and go. So I love the idea of a meeting leader, saying, Okay, we have this block of time. And in this block of time, and let’s say we title it perspectives, where we can say we’re gonna have three guests come in, and he is going to have three or four minutes, and they’re going to share with them their perspective. You know, maybe we bounce it towards the end of the meeting. So there’s a generative conversation. And then after that generator conversation, we can say, Listen, we want to bounce these ideas now off these various perspectives. And they plug in and out, you know, especially in zoom world, right? I mean, that kind of an act, I mean, timing, entry and exit is just such not a big deal anymore. And again, people love it, they love the idea of having their time in the sun. And then they go off and do their own thing. You know, secondly, and that’s the best approach. But, you know, we can take, there’s so much great software out there for recording what’s going on in a meeting. Right? I mean, there’s so much good AI that captures content. So there’s nothing that stops us, after a meeting, sending it to legal and saying, Hey, can you focus on minutes five through eight. And then I’d love for you to share your perspective. And I’ll send it to the team. And then people can contribute asynchronously, which people crave. And by doing it asynchronously, then you’re allowing people to create blocks of time on their calendars, where they can have more uninterrupted time to get into the flow. And to think deeply, as opposed to constantly being interrupted.

Aydin Mirzaee (  18:54

Yeah. So have you thought about, for example, what kind of conversations are best had asynchronously versus, you know, when do you need everybody there at the same time?

Steven Rogelberg  19:04

It’s a really good question. What I advocate for is a healthy mixture of approaches. And async. Work is there are so many things that we do that lend themselves to asynchronous contributions, you know, what I advocate for is a meeting leader recognizing that they can hold meetings and solve problems in a lot of different ways. And when you have a defined problem or a defined question that lends itself to async work. And you could try, right, you could try a sink. If it’s not coming together for you, then you can move to more synchronous work. But it could very well be the case. And it often is that if you throw in a few critical questions into a Google Doc and you say, hey, I want everyone to contribute by this time. You know, here’s the flow and then also make comments on everyone else’s. You’ll keep checking in on the document, you know, every few hours. or what have you, you’ll see a consensus emerging. And it’s all documented, which makes the leader’s life really, helped. It just makes it easier for them. So you have this asynchronous? activity, then the meeting leader looks at and says, Okay, does it appear that I have consensus, it might be the case that what they find is that there are two or three themes that emerge. If that’s the case, you could just send out a quick little survey, saying which of these two or three approaches are people most excited about and think that we should pursue. So with this approach, you created a very engaging interaction without actually forcing people to all come together at once. And again, I’m not at all suggesting that this is what you do for all your challenges. But mix it up, right, there are around 100 million meetings a day around the globe, and they almost all look the same. So to the extent that you can diversify the experience, you’re gonna gather, you’re going to get more attention from people, and they can bring their full selves. 

Aydin Mirzaee (  21:06

You know, I think this makes a lot of sense. And this is one of the things that you advocate for, which is mixing it up. Because you know, a meeting, especially something that is recurring in nature, again, you get into a certain way of doing things. And oftentimes, it’s time to just ask questions like, Is the objective of this meeting the same that, you know, when we started it six months ago, and now it’s, it’s recurring. So I fully agree with this concept of mixing it up, I did want to ask you about something else that you talked about, which is the meeting recovery syndrome, because I think this is very highly applicable to people in the world of remote work, especially.

Steven Rogelberg  21:46

Meeting recovery syndrome is the idea that when you have a bad meeting, it sticks with you, you ruminate. And you often co ruminate, and it has an end, it typically hurts your productivity post-meeting. This is a really important concept. Because we often think about the costs of a bad meeting, right? We can calculate it right? We can say, Listen, we just wasted this much time, here’s how many people here are their salaries, we just wasted this much money. But then you have a whole host of other costs that we neglect, right? We have opportunity costs, people could be doing something else. But then I think what medium recovery syndrome speaks to is the fact that when you have a bad meeting, you know, it permeates other activities, right, we need to try to make sense of that bad meeting. And when people are remote, and we’re not able to connect as readily with others. It can be much harder to make sense of things, right. So if you have a bad meeting, and everyone’s present, you leave the meeting, you know, you chat with someone, you kind of get your psychological, your head around a psychologically. So with remote work, it’s harder to do. But I think it’s just meeting recovery syndrome is just another one of those concepts that tie into the importance of being a good steward, you’ve got to work to avoid that.

Aydin Mirzaee (  23:16

Yeah, that that makes a lot of sense. And one of the questions that I think comes up often is to potentially at least become more aware of if you just had a bad meeting is getting good at requesting feedback. What I like about the book is there is a and I encourage everyone to get the book and check it out. There is a slew of questions that you can ask that will rate and you know, a meeting from 100 different perspectives. In practice, people who do this well and ask for meeting feedback. How have you seen people do this very effectively?

Steven Rogelberg  23:57

You know, keep it simple. Keep it as simple as you can. It’s every once in a while it’s your classic? You know, what’s going well, not so well and ideas for improvement? Simple, easy, right? And this is just habitual. You know, we’re used to checking in to make sure our customers are satisfied. We recognize that they’re valuable to us, and we don’t want to miss the mark. Well, why would we do this for everyone? Right? So if you’re you, your team is you know, you’re having frequent meetings, you do this very basic assessment, and then you try some new things, and see how they work. And then you reassess down the road. But what I like to remind managers is, think about the cultural message that sent it’s right if you say, if your people think that you care about their time and that you’re collecting information, and then you’re willing to try something new. These are like the cultural values that you want every manager to have Write reasonable experimentation, not get stuck in the status quo, challenge the status quo, a thirst for constant improvement. So bring it to the meeting space. And how could we not write when we think about how much time people are spending in meetings? How can we not? How can we just pretend that there’s not this tremendous investment that needs to be assessed? It’s ridiculous. Anything that people spend a lot of time in, as a manager, you should be looking at to make sure that it’s Mack being maximized.

Aydin Mirzaee (  25:37

And there’s another thing that you mentioned in the book, which is about, you know, most people think that they are good organizers of meetings, or they’re great hosts. And you’ve proven that that’s not true.

Steven Rogelberg  25:53

Unfortunately, you’re correct. That if you survey people as they leave a meeting, there’s a misalignment that the meeting leader tends to have much more positive experiences of the interaction than the rest of the attendees. And it’s a blind spot of sorts. And it’s really important, right? So when, you know, from a meeting leaders’ perspective, they’re very positive. But that’s because they have control. They have agency, right. Everyone else is giving up their agency and control to walk into that meeting. So the meeting leader, yeah, oh, this is great. I, I love what’s going on here. But you know, the attendees typically don’t do have that same experience. And, you know, interestingly, when you ask people, you know, is there a meetings problem? Right? It’s a pretty much universal sentiment. That yeah, meetings are so bad. But people think it’s everyone else. Everyone else is the problem. Not done. But they’re wrong. They are the problem. We we all are the problem. We all can do better on this, right? We can all become better stewards. So every manager has to make sure their house is in order. Right? They have to make sure that they’re doing their meetings, right. Right. Now, what typically happens is that we’re recycling bad practices that we inherited from observing others. And we got to break that cycle.

Aydin Mirzaee (  27:28

Yeah, no, that’s, that’s incredible advice, Stephen, this has been, this has been awesome. We’ve talked about, you know, energy during meetings, attendees, meeting recovery syndrome, the role and responsibility of a leader. So many insights, one of the final questions that we ask everybody who comes on the show is for all the managers and leaders constantly looking to get better at their craft? Are there any final tips, tricks or words of wisdom that you would leave them with?

Steven Rogelberg  27:57

So in addition to the obvious one to buy the book? And in addition to going visit my website, because I have so many free resources on there for people? Check it out? You know, I think that the overarching, you know, piece of advice is to truly care, right to truly take your, your role in this vaccine challenge, you know, really seriously, you know, there’s no, it’s not possible to achieve meeting perfection. But with intentionality. I mean, you can turn your meetings into efficient, engaging and inclusive events. And while you can’t control others’ meetings, you do control your own. And you can make excellent meeting choices, right, you can demonstrate stewardship, you can be the example that you hope others will follow. So what I want to leave your listeners with is, I want everyone to commit to fixing their meetings, you know, one meeting at a time. And if everyone makes that commitment, they incremental effects, right? If we can make just 10% of meetings better, think about how incredible that impacts organizations. So my final comment would be this is that right now, we think of bad meetings, just the cost of doing business. I want to reframe it. Well-done meetings can become a competitive advantage for an organization. They are truly an opportunity to differentiate yourself from another organization. Think about that if you can make your meetings effective and strategic and inclusive. While we know other organizations struggle with this. This is a way of really positioning yourself in the market and elevating everything You do in every individual in that organization?

Aydin Mirzaee (  30:02

That is incredible advice. I love the reframe. How could you not be excited to do something about that today? Steven, thank you so much for doing this.

Steven Rogelberg  30:11

Aydin, I had so much fun. And so we’ll have to figure out a part two at some point. But this was great. You asked great questions. I appreciated it. And you are a fantastic steward of my time!

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